Machine mimicking human body can keep livers alive for 7 days externally, can also treat them, detect ailments

The machine, which experts are calling a breakthrough, can repair damaged livers. This should increase the number of organs available for transplantation, which is in line with the purpose of our project, say experts


                            Machine mimicking human body can keep livers alive for 7 days externally, can also treat them, detect ailments
(USZ)

A new machine can keep donated human livers up and running for seven days outside the body. This 'breakthrough' could benefit patients suffering from severe liver diseases or cancer, awaiting a liver transplant, say experts.

What is more, it can infuse life into damaged livers, which means doctors will be able to use the machine to repair damaged livers and then transplant them into patients, without endangering their lives.

This could increase the number of organs available for transplantation, which is in line with the purpose of our project, Dr. Pierre-Alain Clavien, Chairman of the Department of Surgery and Transplantation at the University Hospital Zurich, tells MEA WorldWide (MEAWW).

According to the American Liver Foundation, around 8,000 liver transplant surgeries are performed in the US every year. But a major challenge facing transplantation surgeries is preserving livers outside of the body for longer periods. So far, scientists have been successful in keeping them intact for 12 hours, says the study.

Another major concern is organ shortage, with numerous US patients still on the waiting list. Around 17,000 people wait for a liver transplant and the median national waiting time in 2006 was 321 days.

"There is an urgent clinical need for more donor livers due to an increasing gap between available donors and patients waiting for an organ. To repair or even to regenerate a liver we knew that we had to build a machine that can preserve a liver longer than any other machine that is on the market," says Clavien.

Untreated liver (L), treated liver (R) (USZ)

Clavien said his machine, which took four years of intensive work to build, mimics the human body. This is done to make the liver feel at home, even outside the body. The team, involving engineers, surgeons, and biologists, then tested the machine's efficacy using pig livers. 

Next, the team put their machine to the test using rejected human livers. They gathered ten poor-quality human livers, declined for transplantation by all centers in Europe. Within a week, the device could restore the functions of six of the ten livers. Due to sufficient long preservation time, the liver could initiate the repair process on the machine -- a feat, which is impossible to achieve in just 24 hours. The next step will be to use these organs for transplantation, say, scientists.

The device has another application: it can test various medications against several liver diseases, Clavien adds.

Clavien and the team are interested in expanding the scope of their new machine. Clavien says, "We are trying to regenerate parts of livers on the machine so that they can grow outside of the human body. For that, we need further adjustments to the machine and medications."

The study is published in Nature Biotechnology.

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